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Oral Military History Guide

Oral Military History Guide

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: CAP History Library on Aug 04, 2011
Copyright:Public Domain


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Once a transcript has been produced, the
historian/interviewer should read and edit the text while listening to
the tape. Editing an interview transcript invariably will require the
editor to exercise his or her judgment when deciding just how
much to modify the verbatim transcript. While there is no single
"right way" to edit, being consistent in making changes is

Because the nature of an interview is conversational,
sentences often are disjointed or run on for many lines. Decide
whether to leave them alone or to form several sentences out of
separate or incomplete phrases. Be sure to check spelling and the
use of acronyms. The transcript, however, should reflect what
actually was said. Contractions should be transcribed as spoken.
Do not change "I'm" to "I am." Acronyms, jargon, and similar
expressions should be left as they were said. Similarly, the
transcript should not use rank abbreviations if they were not


spoken. For example, "General" should not become "GEN." If the
speaker said, "Colonel," the transcript should not show "lTC" or
"COL." If a Lieutenant General is called "General," that is what the
transcript should reflect (not "lTG").
Any recorded conversation will contain a number of ''filler
expressions." Omit filler expressions such as "urn" or "ah," unless
they suggest confusion or hesitancy or something similarly
substantive. Change such expressions as "uh-huh" or "urn-hum"
to "Yes" when the interviewee is responding to a specific question.
More fine-tuned changes, such as substituting "yes" for "yeah" will
be the editor's decision; again, consistency should be the rule.
Expressions of disagreement should follow the same rule. False
starts, which often represent a change in thinking, should appear
in the transcript separated from the rest of the text by two dashes
(--) when the change is abrupt; when the change in thinking
results in a sentence trailing off, use ellipses (....). When
reviewing the transcript, the interviewee may recall the original
train of thought and perhaps clarify or expand upon his recorded
remarks. If a false start is insignificant, it may be deleted during

Speech patterns and styles (for example, the dropping of
pronouns such as in "Deployed to theater," or the use of phrases
like "you know," etc.) should be transcribed, whenever possible.
These phrases may reveal something about the interviewee's
personality or conversational manner. Some filler expressions-
with "you know" being a prime example-actually serve as
punctuation during extended conversation. Thus, an interviewee
may indicate the start of a new sentence or a change of topic with
"so" or "you know." Sometimes extensive use of filler expressions
can dominate a transcript; some individuals are simply more
articulate than others. The historian will have to judge how
extensively to edit out such filler expressions, although they
should not all be deleted in order to avoid dramatically changing
the flavor of the interview. If they add to the substance of the
interview, however, they should remain in the text. Remember


that the interviewee should have an opportunity to delete these
expressions during his or her review of the edited transcript.
Interviews that are intended for pUblication as an oral
history are likely to be edited more thoroughly than the average
interview. Published oral histories will differ significantly from the
original interview and transcript. Editorial changes-for reasons
ranging from clarity and readability to interviewee review-are part
of the process. As long as the editorial process does not alter the
substance or meaning of the original interview, the historian has
remained faithful to the task. Published oral histories that are
broadly disseminated should include the word-term list as a
glossary. Glossaries are useful to readers, particularly when the
oral history is long or laden with jargon. Annotating names and
terms the first time they appear in the interview is also helpful to
the reader. Material inserted into the transcript should be placed
within brackets. Similarly, the historian may include explanatory
footnotes to briefly explain to a reader, for example, the meaning
of a term or to clarify a reference that is not clear in the transcript.

TIP: When editing a transcript, write the corrections and
changes on the paper copy of the transcript. Use standard
editorial or proofreading marks, such as those found in the Center
of Military History's Style Guide. Maintain a record copy of the
edited transcript that documents all editorial changes made to the

Some historical offices publish interviews in order to reach
the widest possible audience. These interviews may be published
individually or as part of a series or anthology. Examples of
published biographical interviews include the Military History
Institute's Changing an Army: An Oral History ofGeneral William
E. DePuy, USA Retired; and Engineer Memoirs, which cover the
careers of senior engineers and are published by the Historical
Office, Corps of Engineers. The historical offices of the U.S. Army
Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command and the Army


Materiel Command routinely publish exit interviews. On occasion
the Center of Military History has published end-of-tour interviews
and other general officer interviews. One such publication is Air
Assault in the Gulf: An Interview with MG J. H. Binford Peay, III,
Commanding General, 101stAirborne Division (AirAssaUlt).? To
merit publication, an interview should contain information that is
unique and important, appeal to a substantial audience and be
able to stand as a separate publication.
After editing the interview, send a copy of the edited
transcript to the interviewee for review. Be sure to note any
passages that may require the attention of the interviewee as well
as passages about which the historian has questions. This review
is an opportunity for the interviewer to ensure the accuracy of the
transcription and for interviewee to edit, revise, or supplement the
text with additional information. Discourage deletions from the
text. Providing interviewees with a professionally edited transcript
often reduces the amount of time they will hold on to it. When the
interviewee returns the transcript, make the requested changes,
edit again for errors, and then print a clean transcript. The process
is now complete.

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